Wednesday, December 22, 2010

the ubiquitous Christmas curfuffle

It's been a weird week. On Saturday it snowed and snowed and snowed. The airport couldn't handle it so it shut down and people have been stranded at Heathrow ever since. I've been obsessed with the weather because I'm supposed to fly to Germany on Friday morning, which means I haven't really done much on my essay that's due after the break. To be honest I haven't really done much of anything.

Everything feels odd right now, right on the cusp of Christmas. There's a lot of stress in the air, especially by the British Library, which is right next to the main international train station. There's a queue wrapped around the block, people waiting to get on a train to get home for Christmas. There's also people stressing over the holiday in general. People trying to get to parties, trying to buy gifts, trying to stay happy. There isn't really a lighthearted Christmas cheer in the air, but there is a quiet perseverance, a stubborn resolve to stay cheerful for the holidays. That's admirable, really. Maybe that's what the true meaning if Christmas is: a stubborn resolve to make it through to the New Year.

It's an amazingly difficult time of year. The weather is at its worst right when most people want to travel. Everyone is sick (including me. I've had this stupid annoying cough since Saturday). No one has any money, and yet we're all expected to buy gifts for the people we love. People who are alone feel especially lonely. And yet we're supposed to try our very hardest to stay Christmassy. In an article for the Observer, David Mitchell, one of my favorite comedy actors/writers, comments on this issue I think rather astutely:

Santa knows I'm not the first person to say this but the problem with the mass-produced goodwill of the modern Christmas, where we're constantly wished happiness by carrier bags, receipts, coffee cups and TV channel idents, is that it can feel like a denial of all the things we're fed up or angry about. Charities exhort us to "think of those less fortunate than ourselves" while corporations rub our noses in goodies only affordable by those more fortunate. We're expected to endure stressful family gatherings and gruelling catering tribulations and count ourselves lucky in the process.
It's a tricky thing to do, and I'm not sure why yet we do it. Well, I'm trying my damnedest to stay Christmassy and cheerful, even though I'm freaking out about my trip falling through, not seeing my best friend, and losing all the money I've put into it. Saturday and Sunday were Part A and Part B of a nice Christmas party. We got full, had loads of leftovers on Saturday and so decided to come back on Sunday and finish it all up. The only downside to the weekend was that horrible storm on Saturday. I was out in the snow for 2 hours, not wearing enough clothes, not having an umbrella and getting completely soaked through. Someone smacked me in the face with their umbrella, I got lost, the plans I had made for the afternoon fell through. All of that was pretty stressful and I don't think I was able to flip my mood around and be super happy the rest of the evening.

I remember at one point, however, when I was finally on the homestretch to my friend's apartment, trudging through the snow, I thought "This what Christmas has always been about: trudging through the snow, being cold and miserable, on the way to a warm house full of friendly faces. People have been doing this for hundreds of years, I can do it now."

Another attempt to stay cheery may have worked a little better. I got the last two tickets to see the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra play a Christmas concert last night, and it was just delightful. The music was lovely, the company was lovely, the dinner before hand was super tasty. I finally got to see Harrods all lit up and pretty and I got to see a part of town I haven't seen yet. The concert was really fun, and it was partly a sing-a-long which I just love. It ended up being a really nice, Christmassy evening.

The next few days are probably not going to be so cheery. Fortunately, it looks as if the airports and airlines are finally getting back on track. Lufthansa Flight 921, the same one I'll be taking on Friday, was not cancelled today and actually arrived before schedule in Frankfurt. It looks as if all the Lufthansa flights are going, so that's very promising. The one thing I am worried about now is that the flight leaves at 6:20, and the earliest I can get to the airport by train is 5:00 am, which I think would have been enough time if there weren't 60,000 stranded people milling about the place like zombies. So, if my flight is confirmed, I think the best thing would be to take the tube out there on Thursday night. This is going to suck really bad, but I have to give myself plenty of time to get through the whole mess. The crappiest part of that plan is that I'm getting sick and have already not been sleeping much the last few nights because of a cough. Well, I guess today I'll be cold medicine shopping.

As far as doing anything else today, I don't think I will. I'll just carry on as if I'm flying on Friday and get all packed and ready to go. If I do decided to take the tube out tomorrow night and I'm all ready, I have a ticket for a screening of Scott Pilgrim with a Q&A with Edgar Wright. That's in Brixton at 8, and it might be good to have something distracting and fun for a couple of hours. I can do that, come home and get my stuff and head to the airport.

So there you have it. The ubiquitous Christmas curfuffle. I noticed last night some of the original lyrics to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" were interesting: "Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow, until then we'll have to muddle through somehow." And so that's what I wish for all of you, may you muddle through this Holiday Season with as much stubborn resolve as possible. We'll get through it, it will be over soon. I promise.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I still believe in Santa Claus, even if no one else does.

Well, it's been a few weeks since I last blogged, but that's ok because it was a bit of a dark and slightly unhappy little moment in my life. But I think things are turning around, more or less, and so I've decided to blog about the last few interesting days of my life.

First I'll sum up the last few weeks by quoting a tweet from British comedian Bill Bailey (taking my own twist on it). Into week 10 of studying in London "thru protests, riots, tube strikes, perishing cold, Camilla prodding -yet I will not submit!" There, that sums it up! Well, I guess I can say that in the middle of all this perishing cold and riots I've been struggling with my research, I've been sad and homesick and worried about my future. It hasn't been pretty.

Anyhoo. In contrast, the last few days have been SUPER. First, I got really high marks and kind feedback on my first essay of the term. This restored faith in my research abilities. My professors loved my topic (I wrote about the Ice Palace as a liminal space in a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Kubrick's The Shining) and they praised how I balanced the historical and cultural aspects of the topic. It was broad, but also very well contained and focused. My specialty. Secondly, during my feedback session I got a little bit of hope in staying here to finish the PhD. It seems that they want to keep people in the program and they might help me find a way to pay for the next couple of years. I need to go talk with the director at the start of next term, and he said we'd figure something out.

The highlight of the week was definitely seeing The Boy Least Likely To live last night. In fact, that is what I'd like to really focus on writing about tonight. I've blogged about them before when their second album came out, and I've loved them for a long time, ever since the first album was released some 6 years ago. I knew they were a small band from a small town in England and being from a small town in Utah I never ever thought I'd actually get to see them. So last night ended up being extremely special for me.
I don't think I'll take the time to explain what TBLLT are all about. A recent review of their new Christmas album (which is awesome) does a great job of that. I'll just get to the show for now: I was surprised at the small venue, and not being a drinker and being from Utah I was also surprised by how badly the bar smelled like piss and vomit. (After asking around I've found out that this is how most bars smell. guess that makes sense.) I also got there way too early because the tickets just said 8:00and I didn't know if that was when the doors opened or when the first band went on. I was a bit annoyed with myself at first for getting there at 7 when the band wouldn't be on to 9:45, but I forced myself to stick around and fortunately Jof was there selling his own merch. I was really pleased to talk to him and have him sign a Christmas card for me, and he was very nice and gave me a couple of buttons to go with the tote I bought. I loved how when I asked if they were actually not going on until almost 10 Jof's eyes widened and he asked "Is that going to be a problem?" Haha, no, I thought, I'm just an old lady who likes to go to bed early. After buying my tote and talking to Jof I still had another hour and a half before the opening band went on so I just stood around and waited. I went in to the venue when it opened at 8 and realized I had my camera with me and should have got a picture with Jof. I knew he was sitting outside and I knew I had loads of time to kill so i thought, why not, and I went out and asked him for a photo. It ended up being a really awkward photo, which is ok, but I also got to talk to him for a little bit and that was nice. I'm actually proud of myself for asking since I'm usually really shy and reserved in those sort of situations.

The show itself was fantastic. The band had loads of energy and Jof was pretty adorable dancing around on the stage. They played all of their best songs, and I kept feeling a little sad every time they started one because I knew it would end soon and I wished they would play them a couple of times in a row just like how I listen to them on my ipod. The only things that kept it from being a perfect show is: 1) I wish they hadn't had so many long pauses when they played their cover of Faith. I love that cover; nothing makes me happier than to listen to it and dance around my room. The song has always been my #1 guilty pleasure, and when I found out they had covered it I about died. They were cute when they paused in the song and bantered a little bit about it, I have to admit that, but still I wish they'd played it all the way through. 2) I wish they had played more songs from the Christmas album. It's odd, people usually hate it when bands play too many songs from their new album, but this is the only thing I've been listening to the last three weeks. It's got me through that little bit of dark time I mentioned before, and I would have loved to hear them play The Wassail Song, Jingle My Bells, Christmas Isn't Christmas Without You, and The First Snowflake. What better time and place to play such awesome Christmas songs? Well, as I said before, if it were up to me I'd have them play all their songs in their discography and twice over.

The crowd was small, which made my wild dancing right at the front feel kind of conspicuous, but I ended up not caring. That's how I do concerts, and I make no apologies for it. Nothing beats the restorative properties of dancing to fantastic live music. I came away from that show feeling like a new person. My head was cleared of this terrible cloudy feeling I've been carrying around all week, and I felt deliciously sore from dancing and standing around for hours. And happy. Oh I just felt so light and happy, and it's carried through today.

I think things are starting to turn around for me here in London. I was worried before that I had no place here, that nothing I do was going to matter and that I'd come back with nothing to show for my time spent but a massive load of debt. But maybe not. Maybe I do have a place here, maybe I can create some good work, and maybe there are going to be the opportunities I've hoped for. I'm feeling really optimistic. I hope nothing comes along and destroys it all...

Oh, I nearly forgot. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!